Paradise Lost: As an opening text to studying English at University, Paradise Lost by John Milton can seem a daunting prospect for a few reasons. It is an epic poem about Satan post-fall from Heaven and the fall of Man, as soon as you open it you’ll see why it can get tricky. Here are a few tips to get you started:
It will be the first book you study for World, Time and Text, so make sure you read Book 1 as early as possible! It is important to get a head start, especially because the chances are you will need to read it about five times before you feel like you are beginning to understand it.
Try reading it aloud: The problem with big words and long sentences is that the brain can begin to trip over itself a tad. Reading Paradise Lost to yourself aloud (In the biblical style of an early 90s Samuel. L. Jackson) will give you a sense of rhythm to the epic poem, and help with your understanding of the narrative at the same time as making you sound like a baaaad Motherhubbard.
Attend the reading group and read aloud there: The idea of starting university by sitting in a room full of equally worried strangers and reading breathlessly about the beginning of the Earth might not sound particularly appealing. However, other peoples’ voices give fresh perspective on passages you might struggle to comprehend on your own, and everyone is in the same boat so you don’t have to worry about your tongue becoming far too large for your mouth. The host of these sessions will give insights and ideas that might not come up in the lecture. You can read aloud as much or as little as you wish, and it can also be a great way to meet people, even making friends through your frustration of Milton’s audacity to write such a piece of poetry.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand it: The point of lectures and seminars is to develop your understanding, as it is the first book of the year you may well feel like giving up if you have no prior knowledge of the piece, but this is fine. Paradise Lost is a tricky first hurdle and the tutors understand that, you’re never going to be the only one getting lost with where Satan is going, and how he ends up as an assortment of petting zoo animals. Even if you do struggle to the point of losing it, just remember that after Paradise Lost you get to read Northern Lights and reignite the childhood passion for talking Polar Bears that we all surely harbour.
You do have to write an essay on it, so don’t give up: It is very different to a lot of the other texts this year so it is best to try and enjoy it. I’m not sure I met many who seemed in their comfort zone whilst studying it, but the biggest challenges give the most rewarding feelings so don’t fret and get stuck in.
Satan himself looks woeful at the prospect.
Rupert and the T.E.A Team